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The Juggler of Notre Dame and the Medievalizing of Modernity

Vol. 1: The Middle Ages

Jan M. Ziolkowski

OpenBook Pe ulcers



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© 2018 Jan M. Ziolkowski

Jan M. Ziolkowski, The Juggler of Notre Dame and the Medievalizing of Modernity. Volume. 1: The Middle Ages. Cambridge, UK: Open Book Publishers, 2018, https://doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0132

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Cover image: The jongleur before the Virgin and Child. Miniature, thirteenth century. Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France, MS Arsenal 3516, fol. 127r. Image courtesy of Bibliotheque nationale de France, Paris. All rights reserved. Cover design: Anna Gatti.

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Note to the Reader 3 Preface 5 Overture 5 The Story of a Story 6 From Our Lady’s Tumbler to The Jongleur of Notre Dame 9 1. The Medieval Beginnings of Our Lady’s Tumbler 17 The French Poem 17 The Manuscripts 22 Gautier de Coinci and Anonymity 25 Picardy 33 The Identity of the Poet 34 The Bas-de-Page Miniature: Of Marginal Interest 38 The Genre: Long Story Short 54 The Table of Exempla, in Alphabetical Order 57 The Latin Exemplum 59 The Life of the Fathers 63 True Story: Why the Story Succeeded 69 2. Dancing for God 73 The Tumbler 73 Notre Dame versus Saint Mary 75 The Equivocal Status of Jongleurs 79 Trance Dance 90 Jongleurs of God 96 Holy Fools 99

Fact or Fiction? 102

3. Cistercian Monks and Lay Brothers 117

The Order of Citeaux 117 Cistercians and the Virgin 125 Mother’s Milk 131 Mary’s Head-Coverings 133 Cistercian Lay Brothers 140 Conversion Therapy 146 The Language of Silence 149 Gym Clothes 153 Sweat Cloth 158 The Weighing of Souls 162 The Latin-Less Lay Brother and Our Lady 166 4. Reformation Endings: A Temporary Vanishing Act 171 What Makes a Story Popular? 171 Walsingham, England’s Nazareth 177 Madonnas of the World Wars 186 Literary Iconoclasm 192 Marian Apparitions 196 5. A Troupe of Sources and Analogues 203 King David’s Dancing 204 The Widow’s Mites 210 The Virgin’s Miraculous Images and Apparitions 216 The Jongleur of Rocamadour 218 The Holy Candle of Arras 225 The Pious Sweat of Monks and Lay Brothers 232 The Love of Statuesque Beauty 235 The Holy Face of Christ and Virgin Saints 237 Notes 247 Notes to Preface 247

Notes to Chapter 1 249

Notes to Chapter 2 Notes to Chapter 3 Notes to Chapter 4 Notes to Chapter 5

Bibliography Abbreviations Referenced Works

List of Illustrations Index

267 288 305 315

335 335 335

377 387

To Michel Zink

Art and beauty and poetry are a portion of our mediaeval heritage. Our contribution to the knowledge of those times must be scholarly, first of all, but scholarship must be arrayed, as far as possible, in a pleasing form.

—E. K. Rand

Mary Garden as Jean the juggler in Jules Massenet’s Le jongleur de Notre Dame. Photograph by Aimé Dupont, 1909.

Note to the Reader

This volume is the first of a half dozen. Together, the six form The Juggler of Notre Dame and the Medievalizing of Modernity. The book as a whole probes one medieval story, its reception in culture from the Franco-Prussian War until today, and the placement of that reception within medieval revivalism as a larger cultural phenomenon. The study has been designed to proceed largely in chronological order, but the progression across the centuries and decades is relieved by thematic chapters that deal with topics not restricted to any single time period.

This installment, entitled “The Middle Ages,” deals with the story in its medieval forms, with the nature of chief character as a dancer and lay brother, with the circumstances relating to the Reformation and Counter-Reformation that explain the disappearance of the narrative in the early modern period, and with possible sources and analogues, from the Bible on through saints’ lives. The second in the series, called

“Medieval Meets Medievalism,” examines the reemergence of the narrative after its edition in 1873, its translation into English, and its recasting as a short story by Anatole France. Later volumes trace the story of the story down to the present day.

The chapters are followed by endnotes. Rather than being numbered, these notes are keyed to words and phrases in the text that are presented in a different color. After the endnotes come the bibliography and illustration credits. In each volume-by- volume index, the names of most people have lifespans, regnal dates, or at least death dates. Significant topics and concepts are also indexed.

One comment on the title of the story is in order. In proper French, Notre-Dame has a hyphen when the phrase refers to a building, institution, or place. Notre Dame, without the mark, refers to the woman, the mother of Jesus. In my own prose, the title is given in the form Le jongleur de Notre Dame, but the last two words will be found hyphenated in quotations and bibliographic citations if the original is so punctuated.

All translations are mine, unless otherwise specified.



If no one can walk backward into the future, can anyone walk forward into the past?

Over the last half decade, an unattributed joke in French has made the rounds of the highways and byways on the internet. In it, two musicians, one Corsican and the other Breton, chat together in a club for violinists. Both instrumentalists pride themselves on their talents. The performer from the Mediterranean island brags, “Last week I played a concerto in the cathedral of Ajaccio, in front of six thousand spectators. You won't believe me, but I acquitted myself so well on my instrument that I moved the statue of the Holy Virgin to bawl her eyes out.” The entertainer from Brittany shakes his head and replies, “As for me, yesterday I played at the cathedral of Brest before an audience of more than ten thousand people. You won’t believe me, but at one point I saw Jesus detach himself from the cross and come to me. I stopped playing. In the dead silence, he said to me, ‘My son, I hope you know the music well.’ Surprised, I responded, ‘Lord, I know the score. Why do you say that to me?’ He answered,

‘Because last week at the cathedral of Ajaccio, a pompous little Corsican played so badly that he caused my mother to wail.”

Jests of this sort may circulate hither and yon for a while, then die out for a bit, only to return from the jocular grave to joyous rebirth and regrowth. Yet few ever prove themselves ready for the big time. Achieving broad visibility and long durability nowadays requires the narrative to be infiltrated somehow into a mass-media blockbuster of one kind or another, such as a chart-topping film or novel. Otherwise the tale will not make much headway when the tempo of life is frenetic and airtime is packed.

For all the tenuousness of its current existence, the French joke makes a suggestive point of departure for the book before you. Its basic elements so typify the Middle Ages that no one should be startled to find that it was in fact recounted in medieval

© 2018 Jan M. Ziolkowski, CC BY 4.0 https://doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0132.07

6 The Juggler of Notre Dame and the Medievalizing of Modernity: Volume 1

Europe and that in a zigzag it transited across the space-time continuum from then and there to become today’s worldwide meme.

The story’s humor is verbal. Even so, it presumes nonverbal performances by artists before Madonnas. The crucial actions, so to speak, take place within cathedrals consecrated to the Virgin. The punchline assumes that in her maternal capacity, Mary has special leverage over her son. The dialogue between the two European musicians takes as an ontological given either that images of the Mother of God and Christ may become animate or that the real beings for whom they are stand-ins may come as visitants associated with them. More simply, statues of Mary and Jesus are brought to life or the heavenly personages depicted in them descend to earth.

With luck, the amusement of the brief account intrigues and predisposes you, dear reader or listener, enough that you want to learn more about our protagonist, the juggler of Notre Dame. He too enacts his routine before a Madonna in a church—but that is only part of the story.

The Story of a Story

In the introduction... I would have preferred to see a short overview of the history of the motif.

Arthur Langfors

This book, six volumes in all, tells the story of a story. In a sense, the prose to come resembles a megafarm of the sort that sprawls across the Great Plains of North America. Conceive a mental picture of a vast acreage devoted to monoculture. The plant under single-crop cultivation is one narrative and its reception. Then again, all the words that follow offer much more than the story of a single story. Just as musicians learn, perhaps especially in consorts, from playing and replaying the same piece, and readers refine themselves and their understanding by reading and rereading, the enrichment on offer here is enhanced —cultivated—by perusing multiple versions of the same narrative. To think of a different geography and geology, these chapters map a planetwide archipelago of translations, adaptations, and performances that is formed by the evidence for the reception of one medieval tale and its descendants. Because the tale has been retold in many ways and because it relates to a host of other tales, the account presented here is not an exercise in pure monomania on my part. In fact, it leads in enough other zigs and zags to warrant comparison with The Thousand and One Nights. It takes us into other stories and histories, first contemporary with the original one and then surrounding it down to the present day. It offers up a succession of whodunits, although the mystery is not a murder but a miracle. As we watch the wonder unfolded again and again, we can never be certain what the upshot

Preface 7

will be in the final scene of each episode. Each chapter expands like the bellows of an accordion to become a different detective novel.

The tale of the story is then, more accurately, the tale of the ebbing and flowing fate that befell the narrative as it was received by this and that author or artist and audience. As such, it mirrors the tale of the medieval period as it has been reconstructed by people who have come afterward. At the same time, its trajectory reflects the overall destiny of Gothic. The jongleur, our itinerant musician and juggler, flourished, at least relatively, in two texts from the Middle Ages. The first was a poem in a form of the language now called French. The second was a preaching exemplum—an edifying story—in Latin. To judge by all indications, the written expression of the story originated in France in the first half of the thirteenth century or conceivably a tad earlier. It sprang into being in roughly the same place and time as the architectural and artistic manner known as Gothic itself took shape. Both writing specimens date to the final third of the long era and grand social construct that for the sake of convenience we call the Middle Ages. Let us say that the period extends roughly from 500 to 1500.

The relatively derisory evidence of textual transmission for both the French poem and the Latin prose suggests that before disappearing temporarily into the floss of a cultural cocoon, the tale lived on in these incarnations until the medieval era drew to a close. Perhaps a more apt choice of words would be chrysalis, since the hardened body of a butterfly pupa is better suited to the architecture of the great stone churches. In what has been called the Gothic survival, this construction style too persevered through the beginning of the sixteenth century, at which juncture it slipped largely out of both cultural consciousness and architectural practice. The narrative and the architecture alike succumbed to the wave of anti-Gothicism and antimedievalism that washed across Europe and its colonies in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, along with other reflexes of the Italian Renaissance. During the Reformation, the anonymous story plunged into obscurity, where it vegetated for a few successive centuries. It resurfaced or was recovered in the early 1870s. At that moment, it elicited a romantic gusto that contributed to its being remade time and time again, down to the present day, in paraphrases, literary reworkings, and operatic refashionings. Eventually it permeated many levels and genres of mass culture. Both the medieval text and some of the chief modern adaptations have been rated of the highest grade.

The tale occupies a paradoxical position by being at once nowhere and everywhere, resembling the titular object in Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Purloined Letter.” In this short story from 1845, a document is plastered over by being hidden in open view. Our medieval narrative also, after having been a stock item in the storehouse of cultural literacy throughout much of the twentieth century, has now subsided from mass culture. For many reasons, a moment came, a switch was flicked. The sway of the tale had been unassailable, but suddenly language teachers and literary critics spoke of what in jurisprudence is called undue influence. More devastatingly, the

8 The Juggler of Notre Dame and the Medievalizing of Modernity: Volume 1

narrative dropped precipitously from popular view. In the twenty-first century, it is no longer reenacted annually on live television at Christmas as it was in the 1950s, no longer retold constantly on radio programs as it was in the 40s, and no longer promoted as a regular feature on the opera circuit as it was from 1900 through 1930. For all that, the juggler of Notre Dame seems still to be widely encountered and remembered, even if only as a warm and fuzzy memory in the minds of today’s audiences. Everyone who comes across it appears to regard it as a personal find, the narrative equivalent of an objet trouvé. It is uncamouflaged. At the same time, it is a secret weapon.

Examples of its hiding in plain sight are plenty but I will limit myself to two: Five years before my godmother passed away in 2009, I mentioned to her that I was studying a medieval story and its reception since the late nineteenth century. When I told her the kernel of the narrative, she mused a moment before dropping the title of a poem by W. H. Auden. Until that point—confession time—I had not run across “The Ballad of Barnaby.” As we will see in due course, the short stanzas by the great twentieth-century poet tell the same medieval story. A little more recently, I happened to be asked about my research by the longest-serving flight attendant in the world, a favorite person of mine on my weekly commuter hop. I prattled about the narrative for a couple of minutes. At first, she smiled blankly, but within an instant her mien changed completely. She recognized the tale as one preferred by her son when she read it to him decades earlier. To this day, he recalls it fondly. In short order, we pieced together that she had known the story in a children’s book written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola.

The tale under discussion here is a love story, and this book of mine is a love story about it. Not all undying love is romantic, with billing and cooing. Even less is it necessarily erotic or a prologue to sex. All the same, in our hard-core world it is almost inevitable that even a guiltless juggler should be compelled to enter a seamy space in culture not too many inches removed from jiggle-booty videos. Before this book is finished, we will see the medieval narrative as it has been manipulated by filmmakers of porn—to explain, ancient carvings of the last-mentioned sort often showed a Greek or Roman god with the ramrod of an erect penis. Wait to learn how a representation of the juggler could possibly merit comparison with such a figure.

In an interview about the movie of his novella Love Story, Erich Segal demurred when the reporter compared him with the jongleur. Although the author balked at the comparison, he went on in short order to reveal that he knew the tale and that telling it gave him a leg up in negotiations about the film. In fact, the juggler of Notre Dame served him in virtually the same way as it would have done a preacher in the Middle Ages. It seems that during the planning for the filming of the smash hit Love Story, the financers from the studio had decided to save a large sum of money by lopping

Preface 9

from the screenplay what has become one of its most famous moments. In this scene, the hero ice-skates at Wollman Rink in Central Park. To convince them to keep the segment, Segal had a half minute to make his pitch while climbing the stairs to their office. In those thirty seconds, he narrated the tale of the performer from the Middle Ages. Won over, they agreed to retain the episode. Thus, a pivotal scene in the film owes its presence to Segal’s invocation of the juggler’s spiritual love.

Not only is this study about a story of love, it is also about a love of story. One emotion binds the protagonist of the medieval narrative to the Virgin. The affective tie is hitched by way of a Madonna in a crypt, before whom the lead character expresses his devotion by performing an acrobatic or juggling routine. This daily grind puts into action a heart-melting lyricism. His feeling is faith-based, but the humble attachment to Mary that is described in the narrative emanates from an era when religion was not as quarantined from the rest of life as many now experience it. The other love has less to do with the divine than with art itself. This consuming—and creating passion ties to the jongleur every poet, illustrator, composer, and other creative soul who has remodeled the tale in literature, art, music, and other media. The makeover commences with the two medieval versions, resumes with the rediscovery of the story in the late nineteenth century, and stretches to the present day. Nor should researchers be omitted. From 1873 until this very moment, they have been inspirited by their own gusto for the narrative and more broadly for the Middle Ages. Propelled by that affection, they have transmitted it to the public, including fresh generations of artists, who have kept it living through rereading and creative reinterpretation.

From Our Lady’s Tumbler to The Jongleur of Notre Dame

The account of concern to us here has traveled under various aliases. The story is simplicity incarnate, but it also displays an astonishing plasticity. Most often, it has borne in English the titles Our Lady’s Tumbler and The Jongleur of Notre Dame. The two versions are closely related but not fungible. Many renderings of them have been deceptively simple in the number and nature of their narrative elements. The narrative can even be pruned at its barest minimum to the interior of a high-ceilinged Gothic church and a ball, by way of which the cover art to the program of an opera production summed up the whole narrative (see Fig. Pref.1 below).

Not even a single human being is present. Gothic is familiar to everyone who has traveled in Europe, the Americas, and many other places around the globe that were once gripped by European imperialism or tied to its national cultures. The principal elements of the style instantiate the gist of medieval Christianity: the pointed arch conjures up a monastery, a cathedral of Notre Dame, or both. By visual metonymy, the sphere evokes the juggler himself.

10 The Juggler of Notre Dame and the Medievalizing of Modernity: Volume 1


Fig. Pref.1 Christie Grimstad, Le jongleur de Notre Dame, 2009. Ink pointillism, 28 x 35.6 cm. © Ken Fish. All rights reserved.

Tracing how the tale of the juggler acquired these associations has its own inherent interest. More broadly, it takes us down a path toward appreciating how the Middle Ages have been recaptured since the late nineteenth century. The medieval period as we now know it was retrieved, reinvented, and reconceived by the nineteenth century as a counterbalance to industrial society. Since then, it has been reinvoked both architecturally and literarily at times of profound soul-searching, by both individual artists and whole cultures. Everyone knows that with each passing moment we venture beyond a new point of no return and that the event horizon lies behind us. In this sense, Gothic is gone—but that does not mean dead and gone. At least half of William Faulkner’s adage holds true: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” We may now have reached once again a juncture where the Middle Ages have an especially heightened relevance or meet needs that other times will not fill.

The architecture of Gothic revivals cannot be ignored. In fact, it represents an essential aspect of the overall reinvention that the medieval period has undergone recurrently. In part, the story has thrived owing to the seductiveness of the built spaces in which the imaginations of the reader have pictured it taking place. Fathoming the juggler helps us to grasp the reasons for which the construction style predominated as it did. In turn, comprehension of the buildings assists in coming to terms with the performer in the literary texts. Gothic architecture and literature are the twin terminuses of a heavily traveled two-way street. They are not in discord; we are under

Preface 11

no obligation to pit them against each other in a game of rock-paper-scissors. Instead, they are constantly, ever-evolvingly interactive. In both edifices and texts, Gothic may be so often seen and so readily recognized that it needs to be defamiliarized for us to perceive it afresh.

The wretched and yet transcendent jongleur himself stands beyond the intellectualism of polarities between print and oral, Reformation and medieval, and modernism and Middle Ages. He speaks to all of us who suffer the trials and tribulations of at least two anxieties. One makes us fear in the pit of our stomachs that our chosen occupation is insubstantial; the other fills us with fretfulness that our execution of it may not be even particularly authoritative or dignified. Relieving both worries, he shows us that art and physicality, acted out in the right spirit, can transfuse meaning into life and win accolades even in the afterlife.

The most common English title, Our Lady’s Tumbler, is one translation of a French title, Del Tumbeor Nostre Dame, by which the medieval narrative was known when it was first brought back to light. From this story another has been crafted, a nineteenth- century adaptation called, again from the French, The Jongleur of Notre Dame. It recounts a miracle of the Virgin Mary. Such wonders were the abundant side shoots and suckers of medieval literature that sprouted from the much heftier trunk of hagiography, that is, saints’ lives and legends. Since the late nineteenth century, these two forms of the tale—Our Lady’s Tumbler and The Jongleur of Notre Dame—have undergone frequent amalgamation and adaptation. In close association, they have constituted an enduring component of culture in Western Europe, America, and even farther afield. Whereas most medieval narratives that have exercised much influence on modern culture have been familiar, at least patchily, since romanticism or even earlier, Our Lady’s Tumbler gamered attention only from 1873.

Sometimes coming on the scene late can have upsides and confer advantages. From that year on, the story and its awesomely variegated progeny have held a place continuously in literature, as well as eventually in music, dance, radio, television, cinema, painting, sculpture, and other media. Scrutinizing the family tree of this one tale illustrates and validates the worth of the arts and humanities. This case study demonstrates how the world may be constructed creatively through language, art, music, movement, and other forms of human expression. Even just within the literary sphere (and that is a big “just’”), the narrative has found expression in a multitude of genres, which include cheap paperbacks, handwritten and printed pseudo- manuscripts, miniature books, bibliophilic editions, and children’s books, even pop-up books.

Until the late twentieth century, the world of learning tended to keep apart many categories just mentioned, and to ignore or boycott popular and mass culture. Oral and written, folkloric and literary, low and high, image and text, children’s and adult, medieval and modern, and many other such either-or dualities were kept in place with far greater rigidity than has become the custom. Similarly, investigators speak now

2 The Juggler of Notre Dame and the Medievalizing of Modernity: Volume 1

of literary reception rather than tradition. This change corresponds to a shift of focus from authors and their intentions to readers and their multiplicity of interpretations.

For the breaking down of artificial balkanizations that were created and instituted long after the Middle Ages, I am thankful. Their evaporation enables us to wend our way freely across time, genre, and space. Scholarship needs the solidity of disciplines and fields, but at this point who would write off the attractions and values of building on them to attain vibrant multidisciplinarity and interdisciplinarity across areas? Disciplines and fields must be maintained so that we may acquire the expertise required for knowledge and wisdom, yet simultaneously, they must be resisted and transcended, so that culture may be understood holistically, across times, places, media, levels, and more.

In my wanderings, I have lighted upon beauties in narrative and in lives touched and sustained by the story that would have escaped me. At the same time, the contemplation of later reformulations has granted insights into the medieval poem that would never have occurred to me otherwise. For all the marvels that human ingenuity has reached through science, we are still unable either to outleap our own mortality or to journey back or forward in time. Try as we may, we are bogged down more than knee-deep in the here and now. Yet this story has enabled me to achieve intimacy with individuals, some accomplished, others unremarkable, most large- hearted and next to none small-minded or mean-spirited, from across eight centuries or more. Among the many delights and duties of devotees to the humanities is to role- play as bounty hunters. First, we tail our prey. After nabbing them, we parade them in a perp walk before a broader public. Why? Because they are the “wanted, dead or alive” who can expand our appreciation of culture.

Over the first few decades of the prolific aftermath that the medieval Our Lady’s Tumbler has engendered since the late nineteenth century, the reception of the narrative owed to its intrinsic qualities. The historical circumstances when it was received were marked by particularities that would have predisposed audiences to the significations they detected in it. In addition, the story’s heft has gained from the serendipity that a host of major scholars, authors, songsters, performers, and artists gravitated to it and reshaped it. Tracking the shifting fate of Our Lady’s Tumbler allows insights into not only the life and afterlife of medieval tales and modern preconceptions of the Middle Ages but also the very nature of story.


The story I will tell extols humble zeal, which is how many who have fallen under its spell would like to characterize their own spirit in approaching Our Lady’s Tumbler. Nurturing a determination to be unshowy seems inherently self-subversive, but such undermining seems to be an essential element of being human. So, let us aspire to be modest but also to help wean this tale off life support. Fiction writers might hope

Preface 13

to save it by composing utterly different retellings. I will instead offer a study that surveys the theme from as many analytical vantage points as my own conceptual and cultural-historical capacities allow. Our combined efforts may yet help to confirm that the pen is mightier than the sword.

The length of this study has not resulted from mere writing mania on my part, but rather from the multiplicity and richness of the issues involved in it. I cannot claim to have constructed a cathedral of learning, but I can argue that like some of the finest Gothic places of worship, this edifice of words and images has a complex structure in which each component predicates another. Great churches are cruciform, enforcing on worshipers and even on nonbeliever visitors an empathy with Christ through imitation of the crucifixion as they bring their bodies to the crossing of nave and transept. Yet the same houses of worship deposit upon the original story of Jesus many others, both precedents from the Hebrew Bible and successors from saints’ lives and other subsequent tales, told in stained glass, carvings, paint, and many of the other media that go into the making of cathedrals. So too you will find here, as you thumb through this volume, a very deliberate accumulation of what ideally will serve as purposeful variety. Decide for yourself whether it adds up to more than merely the sum of the parts.

Our Lady’s Tumbler and The Jongleur of Notre Dame, like their title characters, may seem uncomplicated and timeless. People who are humble and devout risk being described as simple, which in turn can be conflated with simpleminded. The jongleur is no simpleton. For that matter, those who have created art or artisanship about him are not simplistic either. As for timeless, on each occasion these stories are retold, they mutate. Like the jumping gymnast of the story, they are whirligigs. Despite qualities that take them out of time, many changes in fact reflect transformations brought about constantly by the passage of days, months, and years.

To rephrase what I wrote at the outset, the pages to follow unfold the unauthorized biography of a tale. Although the destiny of the story may be never-ending, and although my aspirations may be totalizing, this study of its life can be neither. All mortals, unlike some of the art they produce, have only a finite measure of vitality at their disposal. Thus, I must finish, for my own sake as well as yours. As loath as Iam to pull back from an enterprise that has taught me much and brought me unbroken joy, the moment has arrived to start the show-and-tell of what I have learned. Like any biographer who aspires to do his subject justice, I am filled with fervor to delineate a detailed picture. Even more, I ache to construct one that has all the three-dimensional immersiveness of an insight gained or even entered from multiple perspectives. The fancy word for this objective is perspectivism, the practice of viewing and analyzing a situation or object from different observation posts.

This project, driven by an aim for holism, provides the ingredients for an infinity of close readings. The big-hearted soul who in the early thirteenth century left us our

14 The Juggler of Notre Dame and the Medievalizing of Modernity: Volume 1

earliest extant manifestation of the narrative was already in the thick of an interchange between what has been called high and low culture. His poem perched at an interface. On the one side was the sometimes spicy, unrehearsed entertainment that was made available to the illiterate common folk. Indeed, the protagonist of his poem was himself a ruefully unlettered performer. On the other end of the spectrum stood the esoteric exercises of the educated and privileged elite, especially ecclesiastics such as monks. The result is a contradiction, a beautiful and learned text about monastic life that imparts how conventional prayer may be outstripped without Latin, chant, or liturgy. Alternatively, what prevails is the simplicity of the performer's thoughts and hopes: wishful thinking comes out on top.

To elucidate, I will follow one-way lines of cause and effect, but the linear causalities will be braided together into complex bundles. I will toggle between text and context, with the added nuance that the text itself will change at every step of the way—as holds true of a human life history, since individuals develop in response to the environment that evolves around them. For all these reasons and more, digital devices have functioned for me as tools rather than interlocutors. As a humanist, I have been driven to converse with human beings—sometimes face to face with the living but more often via printed page, canvas, film, and other media with the dead or distant. The days, weeks, months, and years have heaped up like flakes in a heavy snowfall as I have picked up and put down the work. Each artist or interpreter has furnished me with another lens, sometimes microscopic, sometimes telescopic, that has amplified and clarified my vision and insight. I have been fascinated by learning about these other individuals and their perspectives. If I have been clumsy in interpreting them, I have at least tried: in our times, anxiety about past or present injuries done to others seems to encourage talking about things rather than people. Objects have become the preferred subjects. That is too bad, since in a time of materialism the consideration of humanity makes a nice counterweight to the preoccupation with materiality. Human beings win out over stuff and nonsense.

This book grapples with two equal but opposite processes. One is the making modern of a medieval story; the other is the making medieval of the cultures that have received it. In what follows, a single miraculous tale supplies the vehicle for sharing and revelation. At the same time, The Jongleur of Notre Dame relates to what has happened to the Middle Ages themselves. It makes this one story a synecdoche, or a rich case in point, for the entire reception of the medieval period in modernity. The description and analysis that lie ahead tell and show (to transpose the usual idiom) a tale. They alternate between countless texts and contexts. The versions of the story and the cultures surrounding them interdigitate inextricably. I would like to resuscitate the narrative, while also applying it as a fulcrum for understanding the reception of the medieval era in general.

Preface 15

Accept then a heartfelt invitation to commute back and forth through time and space, as retailed in words and images. We will get underway by taking a very long stride into the Middle Ages—or at least into what they have been made by those who have sought to shuttle between them and their own times, and into what they appear to be to me. (I am resisting saying that our excursion takes us back, since that carries unfavorable connotations— medieval is not another word for backward.) Then, after taking that huge lunge to 1200, we will jump part of the way forward again toward the somewhat more proximate past of the late nineteenth century. And, from the 1870s onward, we will take baby steps across time until our own day.

As chance would have it, our appreciation of medievalism is much fuller and perhaps simpler up to our late nineteenth-century starting point of 1870 than afterward. That year makes a good dividing line for at least France and Germany, which acted out important roles in the reception of Our Lady’s Tumbler, since the Franco-Prussian War precipitated major changes in both. Even though Britain did not participate in the armed conflict, 1870 marked a seismic shift in its culture as well. As has happened ad nauseam since, the hostilities no sooner drove people apart than they made the world a smaller and more nodal place. Among other things, movements in art and culture spread like wildfire internationally, especially across the transatlantic plane.

Strictly speaking, the reception portion of my book commences in 1873. Many medievalists are well acquainted with the reemergence of the medieval in the Gothic revival of the nineteenth century. Yet that eruption of revivalism is often understood to have fizzled out in failure precisely when my timetable starts. In the conventional scheme, the main renewal of medievalizing entered its twilight by 1880 and was extinct by 1900. As a result, the timeline of this probe may catch my colleagues in medieval—or medievalism— studies, ill- or even altogether unprepared. We are not trained to be aware of second- and third-wave medievalism.


The tale of the performer has been for me a top-notch teacher and guardian angel—or acrobat. Alongside unnerving and subversive undercurrents that only enrich it, the story possesses a redemptive goodness that has made lengthy immersion in it nothing but a charm.

This undertaking has also made me belatedly valorize the fragile durability of books. I have never considered myself an especial book lover—a bibliophile carries a gene for collecting that I lack. Rather, I have viewed myself as a craftsman in a profession that involves an untold array of tools, and printed matter forms a large and much-valued class among that panoply. Yet conducting the dragnet for this project has made me a bibliophile in the broadest and perhaps truest sense.

The end result, these six volumes, has ensconced within itself aspects of my own fondness— for the tale, for medieval cultures, and for people in my life. l owe gratitude

16 The Juggler of Notre Dame and the Medievalizing of Modernity: Volume 1

to all those who have fostered in me the thirst and perhaps even the knack for making the past come alive as I construe it. The Roman myth of Pygmalion is analogous only so far, since the object of my enthusiasm is not a narrative that I composed myself, but I will acknowledge that this story made me fall in love with a product of art. Whatever resemblance I may have to Pygmalion, however, I hope to bear less of one to Narcissus. I long to coax mute texts into speaking, not to coerce them into serving as ventriloquist’s dummies for my own self.

The goodness of our medieval tale froths up in the foam of positive feelings and memories that the story often elicits from those who have been touched by it. Truth to tell, I have been delightedly startled again and again by the generosity of those whom I have consulted when foraging for information and materials. The repeated kindness of strangers has led me to conclude that the story is innately and infectiously constructive. The world needs more narratives like it, for a story can be improving, a tale can be a tonic: a treatment known as bibliotherapy exists, with good cause. To be less highfalutin, we refer routinely to feel-good stories. This is such a narrative. If any of its qualities have rubbed off on my project, enough to make this book instill warm feelings in the cockles of others’ hearts, that outcome gladdens me.

1. The Medieval Beginnings of Our Lady’s Tumbler

I find that I always get back to the twelfth century when left to myself.

—Henry Adams

The French Poem

The poem often called Our Lady’s Tumbler, comprising 684 lines in 342 rhyming couplets, is held by common consensus to be a bright spot of French literature, among the most beautiful texts from the Middle Ages. Magnum opus though it may be, the piece poses quintessentially medieval puzzles. The tale it recounts has also come through to us in a later, no-frills Latin prose version. Rudimentary facts about interconnections between the poem and prose turn out not to be facts at all but moot points. When all is said and done, we can do nothing first except read, reason, and seek out hard evidence. Then we may proceed to formulate, substantiate, and evaluate hypotheses by trying them out in the proving grounds of public delivery. By taking precautions and implementing preventive measures against slipperiness, we can tiptoe around slippery-slope fallacies. Just by itself, the verse in Picard-flavored medieval French remains, in important regards, unexplored territory. Among the unknowns are authorship and precise date of composition. Even more mystifying is the exact relationship between the two actual written texts and any conjectural unwritten forms. Did an oral narrative stand behind the poem that is our earliest datum? Did one, either inspired by the poetic version or independent of it, lead to the later exemplum? At the end of the day, the only two foregone conclusions are the story itself and the manuscripts that transmit it. Both these diamond-hard certainties warrant close examination.

Our Lady’s Tumbler has been termed a “stand-alone moralizing piece.” The tale it tells resembles a specific type of medieval literature known as an exemplum. Exempla,

© 2018 Jan M. Ziolkowski, CC BY 4.0 https://doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0132.01

18 The Juggler of Notre Dame and the Medievalizing of Modernity: Volume 1

to use the plural, were illustrative stories that furnished entertainment in speeches. By doing so, they particularly enlivened sermons. Generally, they were pithy. While providing a modicum of mirth, the brief narratives, which like most rhetoric were protreptic, served as launch pads for edification. Often they impressed salutary or redemptive ethical lessons. Sometimes they afforded humdrum, concrete explanations; at other times they illustrated complex, abstract doctrinal issues. These exemplary tales can be heterogeneous in nature, but many purport to relate an actual event in the life of a real human being. That is, they are presented as being true. Thus, they can approximate closely what today we might categorize as anecdotes or, alternatively, legends. At the very least, they are usually plausible. Whether they actually happened is almost beside the point.

Preaching became ever more prevalent after 1200. Inside the beehives of Cistercian monasteries, abbots were expected to utter daily homilies in chapter meetings to the monks under their oversight. Beyond this routine expectation, the same community kingpins were also to hold forth in church on festivities, when pontificating was the order of the day. Those feasts, of course, included the major Marian celebrations. The white monks, as those of this order were called, spread throughout Europe, into the Eastern Mediterranean and even beyond. They carried with them their sermons and exempla in speech and writing, and enriched their stock of such narratives with what they heard and read during their travels. The store of these little tales swelled. In the world outside the abbeys, sermonizing proliferated as clerics were reoriented to devote far greater time and energy to the moral welfare and spiritual life of laypeople. In the process, the clergy tasked with pulpiteering developed a taste for enlivening and enlightening their orations with engaging and edifying stories. Eventually the friars, too, became especially enmeshed in proselytizing among the laity. All these preachers, monastic, fraternal, and clerical, felt an imperative to grandstand and to find attention-grabbing tales that lent themselves to moralistic or religious interpretations—in a word, to preachiness.

Both the theory and praxis of homiletics necessitated familiarity, both broad and deep, with exempla. Consequently, the requirements of would-be sermonizers opened up niches for new sorts of reference works. In these books, aspiring orators who sought out stories